Monday News: Internet freedom, Amazon publishing, Shakespeare “translations,” and automatic thinking
The Internet is getting less and less free – The new Freedom House Freedom on the Net 2015 Report has been released, with its its country-by-country rankings (I think the country score comparison graph on the report page is even better than the map in the Wa Po article). Iceland and Estonia are actually at the top of the freedom score list, with criteria including government censorship, surveillance, and interference with “privacy tools.”
Some surprising findings: France’s score dropped by four points, one of the most dramatic declines of the past year. That’s due in part to what Freedom House said was a “problematic” crackdown on free speech and a rise in government surveillance after the attacks on the staff of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Cuba’s standing, on the other hand, rose by eight points amid warming relations with the United States and a decision by state telecom operators to slash the price of Internet access in half. Even though the cost of Internet in Cuba is still prohibitively high for many, the Obama administration recently made it legal for U.S. Internet providers to start doing business there, opening a door to better, faster, cheaper broadband — if the Cuban government cooperates. – Washington Post and Freedom House
How Amazon Quietly Became America’s Biggest Publisher of Translated Literature – The announcement that Amazon is spending $10 million on book translations over the next decade has apparently solidified Amazon’s position as the leading American publisher of translated literature, an industry that is already dominated by small, independent presses, which includes AmazonCrossing. There was talk several months ago about the work Amazon was putting into translations, and apparently it is paying off for the company, for reasons this article parses. Whether or not Alex Shepard is correct in his analysis (he used to work for Melville House, so he has publishing experience), there are some insights worth discussing here about how the way American publishers, in particular, do not exactly embrace works in translation.
AmazonCrossing, which preceded Kirshbaum by a year, resulted from a different strategy: identify niches that are being underserved by mainstream publishers. In fact, it’s fair to say that over the last five years, AmazonCrossing and a number of its fellow imprints have created a kind of third way between traditional publishing and self-publishing. The curation one expects from a traditional house is there, as is the sense of quality control. The economics, however, closely resemble those of self-publishing: risk is largely assumed by the author, who receives a substantial cut of an insubstantial retail price. Of course, that risk is somewhat mitigated by the assumption that the marketing arm of the only platform a book published by Amazon is expected to sell on, the Kindle, will heavily support the book in question. . . .
American publishers are averse to publishing works in translation, which are seen as being too costly: you not only have to pay a foreign publisher for the rights to publish it and a translator to translate it, but it probably won’t sell very well. As a result, America has a famously poor record publishing works in translation. It’s said that only 3% of books published in the United States are works in translation, though even that number may be too high. 587 works in translation were published in the United States last year, according to figures compiled by Post. That number is up from 340 in 2010, but it’s doubtful that it accounts for 3% of all books published in the U.S. (The numbers may work if you’re only counting works of fiction, but even then, you have to exclude works self-published on Amazon and elsewhere.) – New Republic
Oregon Shakespeare Festival Plans Shakespeare ‘Translation’ Project – Speaking of translations, during dinner with friends last night, the subject of Oregon Shakespeare Festival came up, specifically their undertaking of Shakespearean “translations” from English, to, er, English. More “accessible” English, that is. Although I can see (very) limited circumstances under which this might be a worthy endeavor, mostly it frustrates the hell out of me, especially when accompanied by statements like the one below about how the “translations” won’t be burdened by “personal politics” of the playwrights working on the project. Because language is one of the most fundamentally political and personal things in the world, which makes this entire undertaking profoundly political.
Lue Morgan Douthit, the festival’s director of literary development and dramaturgy, said in a statement that while the new versions would not be translations in the strictest sense, the word captured what she characterized as “the rigor” of the project. Unlike free literary adaptations of the sort included in projects like the Hogarth Shakespeare, the Oregon effort allows no cutting or editing of scenes, no changes to a play’s setting or references, and no insertion of a playwright’s “personal politics.” – New York Times
Why Do People Favor Opinion Over Scientific Evidence? – And speaking of accessibility, this short piece by Peter Gutmann is a very nice explanation of the difference between “Type 1” and “Type 2” thinking. Type 1 thinking is the type of thinking that takes the least mental energy – it’s the kind of thinking that allows people to accept faulty premises and illogical arguments, for example, because they “sound right” or conform to pre-existing judgments and stereotypes. Whereas Type 2 thinking is deeper and requires more mental energy and nuance (and training, if it is to become a person’s default). It’s indicative of scientific reasoning. And the neat thing about this article is that it uses the accessibility of Type 1 thinking to explain the importance of Type 2.
From this dual-processing perspective, we can see several ways in which personal opinion might trump scientific thinking. First, some people may not have learned the rules of scientific thinking. In such cases, type 1 processing will be their default setting. And even if we can evaluate concrete evidence, our tendency to revert to type 1 processing may still lead us astray, ignoring logical reasoning in the face of an emotionally persuasive personal opinion. In other words, even when scientific thinking is compelling, our propensity to be a cognitive miser and conserve mental energy often prevents us from engaging type 2 processes. – Scientific American